On Ezekiel Elliott as one of the top MVP candidates, Darian Stewart's big defensive day against Drew Brees and Mike Mularkey's bold coaching against the Packers
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DeMarco Murray, running back, Tennessee. And he won this in the first eight minutes of the game. On the Titans’ first series, Murray burst through the left side of his line and sprinted 75 yards for a touchdown, a stunning waltz through the Green Bay defense. Minutes later, he took a pitch from Marcus Mariota and took a jab-step as if he was going to run a right-end sweep … and then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker—the first TD pass of Murray’s career. Just another day for Murray: 146 yards from scrimmage, a touchdown pass and a rout of the Packers.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas. He’s not just the leader for rookie of the year and for first-team All-Pro running back. He’s one of the top candidates for MVP after his dominant 209-total-yard, three-touchdown performance in one of the best football games played this season, Dallas’s 35-30 win in Pittsburgh. He took a swing pass 83 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter, then ran 14 and 32 yards, respectively, for touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game. Right now, he’d be my MVP.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Darian Stewart, safety, Denver. Stewart is a no-doubter for one of the performances of the year. No player in four years had intercepted Drew Brees twice in one game; Stewart did in New Orleans on Sunday. Then, early in the fourth quarter with the Broncos down by seven, Stewart plucked a Saints’ fumble out of the air and returned it 13 yards to the New Orleans 27, setting up the tying touchdown drive. Stewart perfected the right-place-at-the-right-time art Sunday in the 25-23 win over New Orleans.
Preston Smith, linebacker, Washington. His two sacks of Sam Bradford were important Sunday as the Washington defense and special teams helped to build a second-half lead. Smith’s interception of Bradford as the Vikings drove for the potential game-winning touchdown with six minutes left was vital. Smith’s presence was crucial in a game Washington had to have to stay in contention to defend its NFC East title.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Johnnie Hekker, punter, Los Angeles. For the punt of the year. The story: Rams 6, Jets 6 … 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter … Rams with a fourth-and-one at the L.A. 17 … Hekker lines up at the 2 and boots it. Punt lands at the Jets’ 5-yard line … Returned to the Jets’ 15 … Net punt of 68 with the game on the line. For the game, Hekker punted seven times, put the Jets inside their own 20 four times, and had a net average of 50.3 yards. Amazing day for Hekker, a huge part of the offensively toothless Rams’ 9-6 win.
Dustin Hopkins, kicker, Washington. Strange game, the 26-20 win over Minnesota that put Washington (5-3-1) square in the playoff race with seven to play. Washington trailed 20-14 at halftime. In the third quarter, Hopkins’ 30-yard and 37-yard field goals were the only scores. In the fourth quarter, Hopkins’ 50-yard and 28-yard field goals were the only scores. Strange game, reliable kicker.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Mike Mularkey, head coach, Tennessee. “We felt this was a game we had to make a statement about our team,” Mularkey said after the shocking 47-25 rout of the Packers in Nashville on Sunday. He told them Saturday night they’d be onside-kicking on the opening kick if they kicked off—and they did, and they failed. But statement made. A few minutes later, Mularkey called for a halfback pass from DeMarco Murray, who’d never thrown a touchdown pass in his professional life, and he made a perfect throw to Delanie Walker for a touchdown. And so it went. Mularkey’s Titans played a bold game, had 35 points by halftime, and had their foot off the gas by the fourth quarter.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Jay Cutler, quarterback, Chicago. His fingerprints were all over an embarrassing 36-10 loss to the Bucs, including two picks (the first returned by Chris Conte for a touchdown for the first points of the game) and two fumbles (the second fumbled out of bounds in the end zone for a safety, making it 29-10 and hopeless). The Cutler Era is nearing an end in Chicago. It has to be.
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Right Combination of the Week
Andrea Kremer, NFL Network, and Warrick Dunn, humanitarian. In a beautiful piece for NFL Network on Sunday morning, Kremer featured the son of slain Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling uniting with the widow of slain Baton Rouge police officer Matthew Gerald in an emotional meeting that clearly put a salve on the hate and the tension in the Baton Rouge area. You remember the awful story from July, when Sterling was killed in a confrontation with police, and in apparent revenge, three law-enforcement officers were murdered on the job. Dunn got involved because his mother, a Baton Rouge officer herself, was killed on the job during Warrick’s formative years. And the Saints got involved, with coach Sean Payton and the team hosting the families and giving them a day at a Saints game recently. Mostly, this was a gift of Kremer’s storytelling. She was able to get son Cameron Sterling to talk about his life now, and able to get widow Dechia Gerald to do the same. Kremer and Dunn were a perfect combination of humanity here, and the tragically linked families the beneficiaries. She should take a bow for this warm and important piece.
Kremer ended the story thusly: “From the darkest moments, the seeds of something better are often planted. And in the common ground of mourning, we may emerge with a shared understanding, and perhaps the dawn of a new morning in America.”
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Stat of the Week
The Rams defense, and coordinator Gregg Williams, must have been thinking as they flew home from New Jersey last night: “Little help, fellas?” Meaning it’d be nice if the offense pitched in a bit.
In the past three games, the Rams have scored two touchdowns, with the vaunted running game led by Todd Gurley accounting for zero. But look what the defense has done.
|Foe||Yards Allowed||TDs Allowed||Possessions||Result|
|NY Giants||232||1||13||Loss, 17-10|
|NY Jets||296||1||11||Win, 9-6|
Three games in a row of allowing less than 300 yards in this offensively explosive league. Three games in a row, with a total of three touchdown in 35 drives.
This is one horrible offensive team. I know Jeff Fisher is playing Case Keenum because he thinks he doesn’t want to throw a potentially mistake-prone rookie, Jared Goff, to the wolves and have him make a bunch of game-deciding errors. Honestly, though: How much worse will he be than Keenum?